Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Radio Waves Podcast #178

Radio: June 23, 2017
 
As the Entercom/CBS merger continues, rumors have been running rampant regarding which station the combined company will have to sell to get within the limit of the number of stations allowed to be owned by the FCC.
 
The two stations already in a trust -- and thus the two stations seemingly ready to be “disposed” -- are KCBS-FM (93.1) and The Sound (KSWD, 100.3 FM). Observers are (mostly) betting on The Sound.
 
But that would be a horrendously bad idea.
 
First off, while I would loathe the idea, it is very likely that the already impotent FCC will be weakened further by the Trump administration, and the caps on ownership will be changed or lifted. That would mean that no station should actually have to be sold. CBS itself was counting on the idea when it kept KFWB (980 AM) in a trust for a decade as it feigned looking for a buyer.
 
Secondly, between the two, The Sound is the bad choice for a sale. KCBS-FM, also known as Jack-FM, is an established hit, currently at its peak in the ratings. It basically has nowhere to go but down, and the format has gone down in every city outside of Los Angeles. While I don’t expect that to happen here necessarily, holding on to Jack is like holding on to a glass vase with cracks ... looks good now but has the potential to fall apart. It also has little room for growth either in revenue or ratings
 
The Sound, however, is a solid station well-programmed with little direct competition. It’s been holding steady over the past year or so, and in the May ratings hit one of its best ratings points ever: 2.9 overall for listeners aged 6 and over, for an 11th place tie; in the top 10 among listeners aged 25-54 and even stronger among men in that age group. The growth potential is there, and there is room for more especially in revenue, as revenue follows ratings.
 
The above only applies if you are hell-bent on selling two of your best signals. Both Jack and The Sound are “grandfathered” into power levels and effective signal strength that would not be allowed if the stations were being built today. KROQ (106.7 FM), on the other hand, has a much weaker signal emanating from a mountain top lower in height than the Mount Wilson location for Jack and The Sound. 
 
KROQ has been hit hard by competition from Alt 98.7 (KYSR) as well, and both are running a format that has declined nationwide. So from a purely technical and business standpoint, KROQ is the station to sell, unless you want top dollar. Then it’s Jack. 
 
But as I said, if I were Entercom, I’d hold them all with a good poker-face ... I think they will be allowed to keep them for a long time, even though I disagree with the premise.
 
Problems at Disney
 
Remember that story on Radio Disney Country (KRCD, 1110 AM) adding a little FM translator on 99.1 FM in Irwindale? Seems that they may have jumped the gun a bit and might just be operating that translator illegally.
 
You may recall I mentioned KGGI from Riverside broadcasting on that same frequency. Well, KGGI owner iHeart says that the translator was modified without authorization and is now causing interference to KGGI within its protected signal area. The company has asked the FCC to stay any action approving any changes to the license of the translator until an investigation can be completed.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Radio Waves Podcast #177

Radio: June 16, 2017
Ever since Cumulus Media stock hit the proverbial toilet -- the stock is currently sitting at just over 50 cents per share even after a reverse stock split designed to keep the price above $1 ... and is far from it’s (reverse split equivalent) peak of $406 per share in late 1999 -- I’ve been suggesting a way to save the company-owned stations and save radio at the same time.
Cumulus owns over 400 stations nationwide including KLOS (95.5 FM) and KABC (790 AM) locally, along with Westwood One and other content creation companies.
The idea is simple: Buy Cumulus and dismantle it. The current market cap of $14.94 million means the entire company is worth less than one Los Angeles station alone; my plan involves buying the company outright, selling off the vast majority of the stations, and pay off the $2+ billion in debt that the company owes from past ill-advised mergers and acquisitions. 
Even estimating a low average selling price of $11 million per station for those I’d sell, I figure I’d be left with about $4 billion to run my ten stations, ten being the total number of stations any company should be allowed to own if I had my way. I could hire the DJs, programmers and support staff, run the best promotions, and destroy my competition.
People said I was crazy ... except that they couldn’t explain why. But a recent move by Cumulus itself proves the worthiness of the plan: the company adopted a “poison pill” triggered when anyone or anything purchases more than 4.9 percent of the company in the open market. According to InsideRadio.Com:
“Once activated, Cumulus’ poison pill would award shareholders with incremental shares of stock or give them the option to buy shares at a significant discount if the company becomes a takeover target. Either action would effectively dilute the acquirer’s position to 50% or less of what they’ve acquired.”
So that’s that ... unless I can work with the Board of Cumulus for a friendly takeover. The question becomes: why did they do that? Well ...
Lew Dickey’s Back
The man who helped create Cumulus Media through mergers, acquisitions and (in my opinion) horrendously bad skills at running a radio company, who was forced out of Cumulus about 18 months ago, is back. Backed by the same company that gave him the money to build Cumulus into the dying company it is today.
Why Macquarie Capital would give Dickey any financing at all is a true mystery, but they did. And now Dickey has $207 million to play with using his new company, Modern Media Acquisition Corp. The purpose? To acquire and run a company in media, entertainment or related marketing.
Could that be why Cumulus suddenly instilled a poison pill? To keep Dickey out? I’m not a betting man, but ... you can bet on it.
Better Signal
Listened to KABC lately? You can hear them. Better than in years.
When they moved from the longtime transmitter site on La Cienega to a location that now shares -- triplexes -- with two other stations not far from Dorsey High School, the signal seemed to disappear. Vastly inferior to the La Cienega location, at least initially.
It seems the engineers have worked some magic, though, via a power increase from 5000 watts to 6600 daytime and 7900 nighttime. KABC is now coming in loud and clear throughout the area I live and travel even at night, better in San Pedro than in years ... maybe decades. Sound quality for analog is vastly improved as well. Hopefully this will allow the station to better compete; there is some great content that in the past was prone to interference ... of the electronic kind.
Disney Country
I can hear you now: Why doesn’t Radio Disney play country music? Wait ... you mean you didn’t? Well, you’re in luck anyway: KDIS (1110 AM) has changed to KRDC: Radio Disney Country. Country music sanitized for the family.
I like country music. It’s all about trucks, women, drinking and fighting. I’m not sure what Disney can actually play here.
Regardless, they are doing it. They even added an FM translator, which is a fancy word for a low-powered FM transmitter that helps extend the AM signal to parts of the city not covered well by the AM signal. In this case on 99.1 FM in Irwindale. Meaning, due to the strong signal of KGGI/Riverside (99.1 FM), a few blocks near the translator site in Irwindale and nowhere else.
I don’t see Go Country (KKGO, 105.1 FM) being affected at all.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Radio Waves Podcast #176

Radio: June 9, 2017

If you play it, they will come ... for those who doubt the viability of AM radio, I have received more mail on the new LA Oldies format of K-SURF (1260 AM) than almost any other topic over the past few years...

... from a station that is licensed to Beverly Hills, has a signal that doesn’t even cover the entire metro Los Angeles area, and is in a part of the band that is crowded, to say the least. THIS is true AM revitalization ... play what people want. And right now they want oldies.

The question at hand is what oldies? Purists believe that oldies are from the 1950s and ‘60s. Yet when KHJ (930 AM) was playing oldies as “goldens” in the Boss Radio days of the 1960s, those songs were ten years old or so ... even newer than the ‘80s and ‘90s hits that KRTH (101.1 FM) plays today.

But there certainly is a market for them, at least judging by the responses to my survey question: what era should K-SURF play? You want what is missing from the dial: songs from the 1950s and ‘60s.

By an overwhelming majority. of all the responses, 91 percent said stay with the 50s and ‘60s. Only nine percent said they liked the ‘70s, though there were a decent number who said they would accept songs from the ‘70s if there were not too many of them and they stopped by the era of Disco.

For those who gave a cutoff year - only a handful actually gave a year - the majority went with 1964, a few with 1969 an one said 1975. As long as it stopped before Disco ...

Here are a few of the comments:

“As far as reaching for songs in the 1970s, all I can ask is ‘why?’ There are so many songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s that can fill the programming.” -- John Wong

“Most of the ‘70s music sounds out of place. (Instead) they should play lower charting songs (from the 1950s and ‘60s): Johnny Cash, Four Aces, Moonglows, and hundreds of other artists.” -- Steve Thompson -- Glendale

“The creeping in of ‘70s era music is annoying. Just leave the ‘50s and ‘60s format” -- Debbie and Robert Ryan

“I would defnitely prefer to have only songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s.” -- Jim McDonald, Van Nuys

“I can get ‘70s music on other stations. Why do they want to mess with a good thing?” -- LonnyS9970

“Please keep it ‘50s and ‘60s oldies. Please! I have more than 100 family and friends tuned in to 1260 because of the oldies.” -- Merappok1

“The music from the ‘60s had an iconic sound; leave well-enough alone. Let the ‘70s stand on its own.” -- Jeff

“Just to follow up on K-SURF: Yes, the songs should only be from the ‘50s and ‘60s.” -- Ken

“I love the format and most of the choices. I never really cared for Carole King or Steely Dan, among others, but I turn the sound down rather than changing stations. But the 1970s have some songs that are carryover from the ‘60s and should not be ignored.” -- Cheri Pratt

If they start playing music from the 1970s, I’ll stop listening” -- Margie Schuler, Glandale

“Cruising oldies from the ‘50s and ‘60s please ... we old folks need our music ‘fix’ too!” -- Cathy Pallitto

Don’t mind a song from the ‘70s once in a while ... but not too many” -- Marie Mull, Glendale

That’s just a sample. What struck me most in the full original letters and emails is the passion people have for the format and the willingness to find and listen to the station in spite of its limited signal. A few letters mentioned buying an HD Radio in order to hear the station in stereo via the HD simulcast on 105.1 HD2. Those living in San Fernando can tune in the station via HD AM once work is done on the transmitter, according to station owner Saul Levine.

So here you have a weak AM station generating more buzz than most of the other stations in town ... AM or FM. Lesson? Just play what people want. Amazing what happens when you do that.